We’ve done 7+ years of research on creating better online learning opportunities. With the rapidly worsening situation with the Coronavirus, many teachers need to go online, and in a hurry. This page is a combination of best practices and evidence-based advice, mixed with personal opinions where appropriate. Note that this is not official advice from Carnegie Mellon.
If you would like to email me, my email is email@example.com. I will try and answer as soon as I can.
Recording lectures: Counter-intuitive though it may be, my preferred method of doing this is with Zoom. The way to do it is to start a “meeting”, with just one participant (you). Then, share your screen/slides with this meeting. Start recording. Zoom will record both your slides, and your face. Make sure to create a brief test recording first to make sure your audio is working properly, the slides are readable within the recording, and so on before trying to tackle a longer lecture. You can upload the resulting video to Youtube, Canvas etc.
Speaking of uploading video, Youtube will auto-caption your video if you enable that option. If you’d like a human-created transcript, try Temi. They are somewhat expensive, though.
Also, based on Rene Kizilcec’s research, students like seeing the instructor’s face if they are watching a video, but it doesn’t change what they remember. I don’t bother with recording my face. This lets me record anywhere. See original research
Discussion groups: Zoom has a break-out room feature. So if you want to really have a synchronous discussion in class where students are in smaller groups, it’s easy to do. Zoom will automatically handle assigning students into the smaller video discussion rooms (or you can do it manually), and you can drop in on different rooms while they’re discussing.
Office hours This one is hard. Zoom works in a pinch. The most useful feature is the “Hand raise” feature, which you should probably ensure your students learn to use in your first class. But I have yet to see a tool that does it really well; please get in touch if you find anything awesome (firstname.lastname@example.org)
What are students confused about?
It’s hard to know what students get/don’t get if you can’t see them. My solution? Add a link to a one-question Google Form after each topic in your slides, preferably anonymous. It’s amazing what you can learn if students are anonymous.
If you can’t ask a topic specific question, one great question is “What is the muddiest point about this topic?” (not “What are you most confused about?”) This “muddiest point” idea is partially based on Juho Kim’s research.
Based on Eric Mazur’s Peer Instruction, ask a question on the form before you discuss the topic (in video/slides). Show overall statistics on how the class responded (Google Forms has an option to do this.) Then allow students to change their answer if they want. Only explain after the active learning step.
If possible, you’d also allow students to discuss before they answer question the second time. It’s possible to do with Slack or Zoom breakout rooms, but a bit tricky to manage.
If your students are accustomed to physical classroom teaching, then encouraging collaboration online can be challenging at first. The trick is to use technological capabilities that are unique to online teaching, instead of trying to replicate the in-person classroom. Here are a few ideas to get started.
For assigned readings, pair each student with one other (random) classmate. Students then read, discuss their interpretation with assigned classmate (over video), then share with the broader class using Piazza/Slack. This idea builds on the think-pair-share paradigm, which we adapted to online learning. I’ve found 1-on-1 discussion is helpful for surfacing misconceptions. It also builds community in the classroom. (I usually do random pairings on Google Sheets.)
Peer review: Use a tool for students to give each other feedback on assignments online. We built Peerstudio for this, but others have used plain ol’ Google Docs. I use peer review even in my in-person classes. It helps students see a different perspective and learn through critique. We’re also happy to help you use Peerstudio if you send us an email at email@example.com.
Kothiyal, A., Majumdar, R., Murthy, S., & Iyer, S. (2013). Effect of think-pair-share in a large CS1 class: 83% sustained engagement. In Proceedings of the ninth annual international ACM conference on International computing education research (pp. 137-144).
Cambre, J., Klemmer, S., & Kulkarni, C. (2018). Juxtapeer: Comparative peer review yields higher quality feedback and promotes deeper reflection. In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1-13). Paper
Building informal community
How do you make space for people just to hang out? My recommendation is to encourage students to set up their own private groups on Slack or social media (or even email) to connect with each other. Resist the temptation to peek in, but make yourself available to students who want to talk to you one-on-one.
Min Liu, Emily McKelroy, Jina Kang, Jason Harron & Sa Liu (2016) Examining the Use of Facebook and Twitter as an Additional Social Space in a MOOC, American Journal of Distance Education, 30:1, 14-26, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/08923647.2016.1120584
What not to do
Do not immediately buy into vendor-hype. For the most part, I don’t see a need to shift to an online curriculum (so-called “virtual learning”), rather than retaining the existing curriculum and shifting to online teaching that uses science-based best practices.
Do not adopt too many tools all at once. I’ve mentioned Zoom, Google Forms, Slack, Piazza, Peerstudio, and Youtube above. It would be challenging to try them all on Day 1. Personally, I would prioritize Zoom, and one collaborative tool (Slack, Piazza, Peerstudio). You might find it helpful to send a Form at the end of the week or so.
- Carnegie Mellon’s Eberly center has some guidance
- Stanford also has some guidance through its TeachAnywhere resource. Among other things, they suggest only having open-book take-home exams, instead of using any browser-blocking technology. This is what I do in my own class, and recommend it.
Please email me what you’ve found to work well, and I will update this guide. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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